Counting the Creative Industries (or why South Lanarkshire is the creative economy capital of Scotland)

Delving into the employment and industry statistics for Scotland is a revealing and at times surprising enterprise.  Who would have thought that the Scottish district showing the greatest proportional increase in people working in ‘Culture, Media and Sport’ would be South Lanarkshire? Back in 2004 some 800 people (0.3% of the total population) were counted in that category but by last year the figure had risen an impressive 175% to 2,200 (0.7%).  That’s 1,400 new jobs and some 13% of the recorded increase for Scotland as a whole!  (Only Edinburgh surpassed it in absolute terms with an increase of 2,300 jobs, a more modest 42% increase in proportional terms, though better than the all-Scotland 29% increase from 35,800 to 46,200.)

Quite how the home of New Lanark, the UK’s largest museum of country life at Kittochside and Biggar Puppet Theatre, has pulled off this impressive bit of economic development can’t be discerned from the figures but one can’t help wondering if some re-categorisation of employment data may have played a part.

Statistics, as we all know, can easily be made to say what you want them to, particularly if you choose your comparison periods carefully, tweak data definitions and quietly ignore things like adjusting for inflation.  Obtaining reliable comparative data for the Creative Industries at regional, national and international levels is notoriously difficult but utterly essential if meaningful evaluation of cultural and economic policy is to be possible. Similarly, comparing economic and cultural data over extended time series is central to analysing the impact of public policy.

Back in 2005 the Office for National Statistics discovered they had been seriously over-estimating business data covered by SIC (‘Standard Industrial Classification’) Code Division 92: ‘Recreational, Cultural and Sporting Activities’ which ranges from ‘Motion Picture and Video’ to ‘Gambling and Betting’. 

If you didn’t know this then the following table would look rather alarming as it appears to show a pretty catastrophic drop in the Gross Value Added generated by this major part of Scotland’s Creative Industries between 2004 and 2005 (when the data was adjusted).

Scotland Recreational, culture and sporting activities 1998 to 2008 Graph

These sorts of difficulties make getting a handle on how Scotland’s Creative Industries are doing less than straightforward.  The ONS and Scottish Government Annual Business Inquiry tell us (see also Arts and Business report ) that Scottish Creative Industries GVA rose some 84% from £1.3 billion in 1998 to £2.4 billion in 2007.  Employment in the sector is said to have increased over 50% from 38,500 in 1998 to 58,600 in 2007. 

Some interesting trends are revealed when we drill a little further into this data.  For example the sector showing the sharpest increase is Advertising (194%) while Publishing (32%) and Film/Video (32%) appear to be equally in the doldrums, at least according to these figures.  Music and the Visual and Performing Arts appear, by contrast, to be in pretty rude health (176% increase in GVA over the decade).

What if anything should we conclude from this mass of data, potentially unreliable as in some cases it clearly is?  Well one thing we should be looking at is why growth rates are so markedly different across sectors and whether for example, economic policy interventions should prioritize the ‘leaders’, on the basis of building on growing areas or the ‘laggards’, on the basis of correcting market failures or distortions.  Though some sectors (e.g. advertising) are acutely sensitive to cyclical market conditions while others (e.g. film, architecture) can be significantly affected by a few lasrge value projects, there are underlying structural factors – e.g. skills, access to investment and working capital, impact of technology change – that public policy can help to address.

NB: For the avoidance of doubt, as the lawyers say, I am only referring here to considerations of economic policy. There are of course many and varied cultural and social policy reasons to invest in the creative and cultural sector – the complex interplay of these with industrial and economic policy is an issue for (many) other posts here and elsewhere – seefor example Pat Kane’s recent and considered words in the Caledonian Mercury .

Going back to South Lanarkshire, if it really has more than doubled employment in Culture, Media and Sport perhaps the Scottish Creative Industries Partnership (SCIP) ought to pay a visit to see how they did it, particularly as the local Government representative on SCIP is Leader of North Lanarkshire Council!

UPDATE/FLASHBACK: For more on the shifting sands of creative industries re-visit this earlier post


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